On a perfectly pleasant evening at the end of May, my colleague Gavin Martin and I were sitting with most of the E Street Band and a few dozen others in the bar of the Merion Hotel in Dublin after a Springsteen show. It was getting on towards midnight. The room was conversationally loud. I was drinking red wine because I can’t stand Guinness, never mind my last name.
The noise level rose noticeably as another troupe entered. It was U2, in full, and their manager, Paul McGuinness. Gavin and I looked at one another in trepidation. We knew what probably came next and sure enough, ‘round the corner of the couch came a man dressed in a ginger suit with ginger hair, possibly the recent victim of some surgery but nonetheless recognizable as Bono Himself.
Himself did not plop down on the couch—there wasn’t room and both Gavin and I have trained ourselves against obeisance even to godlike celebrities. So Bono leaned over and began to engage us in conversation. He spewed out theories, analyses, opinions and attitudes. All he got back were monosyllables and mumbles. We weren’t talked out, exactly. Maybe kind of dumbfounded, that He was living out such a perfect caricature of himself.
That’s a little unfair because He did eventually ask what we were working on. I don’t remember what Gavin said, because I was busy inventorying what I didn’t want to talk about: Not my book about why American Idol is evil (because I feared the response) and not the one about the civil rights movement (because I didn’t want to lose my temper about that moronic songs that says Martin Luther King did not lose his “pride” when he was assassinated, as if MLK were a preening, pretentious pop star). So I said, “Actually, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about celebrity politics and how ineffective they are.”
I have been. I started at No Nukes (the MUSE concerts) which did succeed, with help from Three Mile Island, in shutting down the U.S. nuclear power industry for 25 years. But after that, I couldn’t think of a problem that actually gained a solution from celebrity involvement: AIDS is a bigger crisis than ever, hunger is rampant precisely where hunger was rampant at the time of Live Aid, nuclear power is making a comeback in the States, and celebrity endorsements failed to elect the last several Presidents. (Which is one reason the McCain-Palin complaint that Obama is nothing but a celebrity is preposterous—they wish.)
Then again, my thinking wasn’t so sharp that night. Bono seized my statement and, with a look of determination, declared: “I think I know something about that. And you’re dead wrong.” I said, well, not as far as I could see. He said, “No. It does work…I think we should have a debate about this, Dave. A public debate.”
I responded that I had a satellite radio show called Kick Out the Jams, two hours every Sunday, and we could do that debate any week he’d like. He said that sounded good to Him, I said I’d put the folks at Sirius to work on it that very night. We parted soon after. A weird story, I thought, but put in a call to Sirius just in case.
He had plenty of wiggle room, Gavin being my only witness. But the next night, Bono told my wife, “Tell Dave not to forget about our debate.” Paul McGuinness was standing right next to them, too.
U2’s New York office took a couple weeks to get back and then said that the debate would happen, after the band completed recording its new album. (The release date has now been pushed back to January.)
I figure, if it does happen, I can’t exactly win—celebrity counts for something, after all—even with the facts on my side. I also think it’ll be fun, and some additional listeners (and readers—RRC will of course provide a transcript) will get the point. Which is empowerment of those who are not celebrated, who are in fact the wretched of this Earth. Those people have voices, too, and the solution to many of these problems is to hear them, speaking for themselves, not through a bullhorn controlled by Bono and Bob Geldof into the ears of politicians who are deaf as a matter of principle.
And if it doesn’t happen, believe you me, I’ll have even more fun. I’m thinking that, now that the record is due in January, the time to begin the count for Kick Out the Jams Held Hostage is probably March 1—it’s not only a Sunday next year, it’s also my birthday.
Of course, I’d rather present the debate…
DAVE MARSH (along with Lee Ballinger) edits Rock & Rap Confidential, one of CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, now available for free by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org. Marsh’s definitive and monumental biography of Bruce Springsteen has just been reissued, with 12,000 new words, under the title Two Hearts. Marsh can be reached at: email@example.com
This article originally appeared in Rock & Rap Confidential.